Washington - Leaders of the country’s largest synagogue denomination are considering a plan to sharpen their anti-war position and call on the rest of the Jewish community to play an active role in pressing for America’s withdrawal from Iraq.
The process of updating the Reform movement’s platform is expected to culminate in March, when the Union of Reform Judaism’s executive committee will convene and discuss the proposed new language regarding Iraq. The updates to the platform were already recommended by a task force and are expected to be approved this week by the movement’s Commission on Social Action.
The Reform union, which represents more than 900 synagogues and 1 million members, already passed a resolution in 2005 calling for a reduction of troops in Iraq and for the adoption of a “clear exit strategy” for the war. If adopted, the new changes would put the Reform movement squarely in the corner of the anti-war movement.
“Since the resolutions were adopted in 2005, we’ve seen more killing and destruction, so there is a need to re-evaluate our stand,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action, which is now debating the change.
According to Feldman, there is a consensus in the Reform community about the need to take sides on the Iraq issue. Though the ultimate language of the platform update has not been finalized as of yet, it is expected to call for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, in accordance with the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, and will oppose any troop surge. Feldman told the Forward that the Jewish community could make a unique contribution to the debate over Iraq by pointing to Jewish traditions and values which suggest that the United States end its military presence there.
Reform leaders believe that the majority of the Jewish community opposes the Iraq War, albeit quietly.
The American Jewish Committee’s annual survey last year found that 65% of Jews believe that the United States should have stayed out of Iraq in the first place, and two thirds think Iraq will never turn into a stable democracy.
Few Jewish organizations participated in last weekend’s anti-war rally in Washington. Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, was the only representative of a Jewish entity to address the rally. Tikkun and Jewish Voice for Peace were among the few Jewish organizations to endorse the event.
As has been the case at other anti-war rallies in recent years, some participants at the gathering raised the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The rally featured banners calling for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. At some workshops, organizers linked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to end American military presence in Iraq. Such criticism of Israel is among the reasons given by mainstream Jewish organizations for deciding not to join the anti-war movement in some formal way. But it is not the only reason.
“While many of us have great concerns about Iraq, our focus has not been there,” said Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum and a former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Our main interest, as an organized community, has been on Iran and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the print version of this story failed to make clear that the role of the Commission on Social Action was to draft proposed changes to the Reform platform on Iraq. The actual changes must be approved by the executive committee of the Union of Reform Judaism. In addition, due to a separate editing error, Rabbi Marla Feldman was misquoted: Her point was that elements of Jewish tradition could be used to argue against the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.